Urban food gardening, part 1: the land challenge

Growing (very) local food.

You can’t get more local than growing vegetables in your own backyard—or front yard, patio, or rooftop, for that matter. But when your condo is north-facing and heavily shaded, there’s no accessible ground on the property, and you suspect your strata council would veto any rooftop forays, what are you to do?

As a teen living with my folks, with a large yard in full sun, I wasn’t really interested in growing food. I was focused on recycling in a big way, and on making bread to avoid plastic bag consumption, but the idea of growing food myself didn’t occur to me. Since then, my desire to grow food has steadily increased while the logistics of doing so have declined. It took a while for me to seriously consider my available options, stuck as I was during the following decade in landless angst. Eventually my desire to grow things outweighed my reluctance to garden away from my home, and two years ago I decided to get my hands on a garden plot in one of Vancouver’s community gardens.

Cypress Community Garden.

I tried several of the gardens closest to where I live. All were full and wait lists were several years long. Only one garden used a different system to distribute available plots: it accepted inquiries on a first-come, first-served basis, as of November 1. Determined as I was, October 31 found me at my computer, email request drafted and ready for sending, watching the clock tick towards midnight. At 12:01 am on November 1 (based on Greenwich Mean Time—I was serious about being first in cyber-line, and not disqualified by being early) I sent my request for a garden plot. A month later I was to find out that any spaces that had come available had been given away, and I was not one of the lucky few.

The following year, after recovering from the disappointment of not being allowed to join the exalted ranks of urban community gardeners, I looked for another option. Surrounded as I was by a neighbourhood of single- and multi-family houses with yards, perhaps it would be possible to share someone else’s backyard? An internet search revealed that this idea held credence, with a website devoted to connecting the land-challenged with those generous souls wishing to share their good fortune in land in the form of garden space. However, with the needy outnumbering the willing by at least ten to one, finding a backyard to share didn’t seem likely.

So what’s a locavore to do? This year I am determined to grow food, and only one option remains. I will reclaim a nearby patch of unused land and get gardening.

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